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Writing Tips for Fiction Writers!


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Style: the Rhythm of Prose
by Tina Morgan

Good prose has a sound or rhythm all its own. Learning how to write good prose isn't something that any book or article can teach you, but there are several things you can do to improve your writing.

One of the first suggestions is to read your work aloud. When you do this, make certain you read what is on the page and not what you think should be there. This can be difficult as even the most talented writer tends to see what they meant to write. Take your time. Pause for the half-breath on commas and semi-colons and for a full breath for periods and colons. Emphasize exclamation points and raise the pitch of your voice at the end of questions. Reading as though you're an actor isn't necessary but you do need to observe the sound of your punctuation.

If reading aloud is intimidating just remember that it's better to read your work to yourself and to catch the mistakes before others read it. Also consider having someone else read a few pages aloud to you or record a portion. The person reading needs to have a good grasp of grammar and pronunciation.

As you read, look for the elements that will strike a discord with your readers.

Alliteration is the repetition of the first letter in subsequent words or words in close proximity to each other: mad Mary, or proving innocence in prejudice predicaments. Used with care, alliteration can add power to your writing but it should be used very sparingly or it will create a juvenile or awkward flow. A close relative of alliteration is rhyme, which should be avoided in prose unless you're creating a new nursery rhyme.

Repeated use of names or third person pronouns can also set up an discordant echo through your work. Avoid overuse of your characters' names and resist the urge to remind your readers in every chapter of your character's full name. Once or twice should suffice for most readers.

Faulty Foundations:
Sentence construction is the often at the root of style problems. Learn some grammar basics - comma, period, parenthesis, dash, semi-colon and colon uses. Correct usage is key to keeping your writing flowing smoothly.

While sentence fragments are technically incorrect, their judicious use can be used to stress important points in your plot or characterization. Short sentences can do the same but both need to be used with care or they result in stilted, hard to understand prose.

Avoid going to the opposite extreme and creating complex sentence that tire the reader just by their mere presence in the text. Just like short sentences and fragments, the occasional complex sentence can add to your style, but they must be used in moderation.

Finding Your Rhythm:
Finding your own personal rhythm and style can be a difficult journey or it can come as natural as breathing. Some writers have a innate rhythm and style that typically comes with an equally natural understanding of the language and grammar usage. Other writers will need to work to learn proper sentence structure.

The best way to find your own rhythm is to write. Put the words to paper. Allow your muse free reign and write a page or two, or ten. Then go over your work with ease of reading in mind. If you stumble over your prose then your readers will too. Also, allow someone with good grammar skills to look over your work.

Workshops and their role:
One of the primary complaints I hear about writers' workshops is that they alter a writer's style too much. This is where you have to temper your rewrites to what your critics say is wrong and the affect you meant for your prose to have. Consider their advice with care. If it doesn't "sound" right, then don't follow it. Writing is an art, not a science. Proper sentence structure and correct grammar use will improve your style but how you present the words is up to you.

Researching Style:
Reading short stories and novels in your genre will expose you to a wide variety of styles if you try different authors and don't stick to those you've enjoyed in the past. If you find an author you dislike, take the time to examine their work. Read a page or two and look closely at their choice of words and sentence structure. It can give you a basis for examining your own writing and discovering how to fix the elements you feel need improvement.

When you read an author that you particularly enjoy, take a look at their style. Don't try to copy it. Your goal isn't to mimic but to find your own unique voice.

Copyright 2003 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved


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